An Analysis of the Effects of Magnetic Transcription by Wire Recorders and Early Magnetic Tape on the Recording Industry


The introduction of magnetic transcription has indeed made technology in the world to advance at a fast rate. In 1898 the wire recorder was invented by Valdemar Poulsen who was a Danish engineer (Morton 2006). Following in 1948 Ampex sold the first U.S. tape recorder to the Bing Crosby Show. While looking at wire recorders and the tape recorder that emerged after the development of magnetic transcription, obvious disadvantages were found with the wire recorders and the tape recorder soon improved the ability to record information. Companies like Les Paul, Philips, Dolby Engineering, and William Lear began to harness the new technology by producing different components that allowed not only transcribing but also listening. Following World War II, the development of magnetic recording instrument was enhanced, and the recording industry is now able to record audio, video and digital information easily and effectively. The two types of magnetic recording equipment which have enhanced better and clearer recording of audio, video and digital information are: wire recorders and early magnetic tape. The two types of magnetic recording equipment have the effect of enabling a clear and more effective way of recording video, digital and audio information. This paper will analyze the effects of the two types of magnetic recording equipments on the recording industry.

While it may be considered that the significances of magnetic transcription in the recording industry are profound, it is also clear from research that the progress of the concept is dynamic. Advances in magnetic recording and the recording industry in general are becoming significant in the industry. This causes various effects on the recording industry as technology changes and people move from one recording technology to another. Modern magnetic recording machines have evolved from the German designs used during the Second World War (Howard and Ferguson 1967). Key improvements on magnetic recording have been enhanced since the Second World War and high frequency bias and other improvements have led to change of magnetic recording from application as a back-room science to a source of commercial benefits. Therefore, the effects of magnetic transcription and recording have evolved over time.

History of Magnetic Transcription

Magnetic transcription and recording began with the telegraph in 1840s. Samuel F.B. Morse invented the telegraph by sending an electrical signal over wire from Washington to Baltimore. From then, inventors and engineers worked hard to improve the telegraph technology. Alexander Graham Bell invented a device which transformed mechanical sound waves into electric current at Philadelphia’s World Fair (Judge, 1950). He spoke into a microphone and his sound came out through a diaphragm. This inspired many people to improve the technology of sound recording. Thomas Edison then created a cylinder phonograph, a form of a needle recorder in 1877. Oberlin Smith noticed the efforts of Edison and sought to improve his technology by using a magnetizing coil for sound transcription and recording rather than Edison’s use of a needle. Smith failed to fulfill his work, but he wrote a description of his work on a memorandum which was later to be used by other inventors to come up with magnetic recorders.

Valdemar Poulsen was the first to come up with a magnetic recorder when he built the first functioning magnetic recorder known as the Telegraphone. Poulsen was a telephone engineer at the Copenhagen Telephone Company. Patents of the Telegraphone were purchased by the American Telegraphone Company in 1905 and started making dictating machines. The signal of these wire recorders remained weak and unamplified. They were also unreliable. These wire recorders were used in World War 1. After World War I, magnetic recording was improved in Germany. Rosen (2011) suggests that new improved wire recorder with an electronic amplifier was used as a dictation machine. These wire recorders were improved through various versions including the Magnetophone over time.

After Second World War, the first Magnetic tape was invented by Bing Crosby to replace the wire recorders. Mullin then developed superior tape recorders in 1946 and recorded and edited Cosby’s radio shows. Crosby funded Ampex Company by investing $50,000 in the company in order to boost the commercial use of tape recorders (Rosen, 2011). Fred Waller designed a 3-projector system in 1952 which was used at the Broadway Theater in New York. The emergence of the computer technology then utilized magnetic recording as a solution to problems associated with storage and speed of data.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wire recorders and Magnetic Tapes

Magnetic tapes are cheap ways of storing data compared to digital methods. In comparison with wire recorders, magnetic tapes also hold a large amount of data (Begun, 1937). They also use flexible magnetic strip to attach items to metal surfaces, hence enhancing reusability. Magnetic tapes are also good for cleanup because they have standard chemical adhesives and a magnet. They are also safe to use because they use a magnetic tape that protects the painted services. One disadvantage of magnetic tapes is that they make their readers become obsolete over time. Processing of data using magnetic tapes is also slow and it is quite cumbersome to search within data using magnetic tapes. Magnetic tapes also cause a physical contact with recording heads, hence causing friction. Magnetic tapes may also lose magnetic data as a result of stretching or breakage caused by heat or effects of the earth’s magnetic field.

The advantage of wire recorders is that they are portable and self-contained with its own amplifier and speaker. The wire recorders are also cheaper and easy to use. The disadvantage of wire recorders is that they have weak signals and without amplifications (Begun, 1037). Wire spools in some wire recorders are also twisted and unreliable. Therefore, the quality of sound was very poor compared to magnetic tapes and digital recorders.

Effects of Magnetic Transcription by Early Wire Recorders on recording industry

Wire recording came before magnetic tape recording. It is a type of analogue audio storage whereby stainless steel wire is used for magnetic recording (Morton, 2006). In this case, the stainless steel wire is pulled across a magnetizing recording head which is used to magnetize every point of the wire in proportion to the polarity and intensity of the audio signal that is provided to the recording head. In wire recording, the recording medium is always already developed unlike tape recording which was held back due to the fact that the materials and methods used to produce the tape had to be improved.

There are various categories of wire recorders which were developed over time to enhance successful magnetic transcription in recording industry. Morton (2006) says, “Telegraphone was the first wire recorder of the late 1890s”. The need to record audio sound through wire led to development of wire recording companies such as American Telegraphone Company. Such companies enabled the recording industry to establish recorded audio sounds in steel wires. Other types of wire recorders are Dictaphone and Ediphone recorders. These recorders used wax cylinders as the recording medium.

Brush Development Company and Armour Research Foundation licensed cheap wire recording designs internationally and made technical improvements to wire recording. Licensing of many manufacturers from USA, Europe and Japan enhanced growth of the recording industry as more manufacturers were able to use wire recorders to record sounds. As entertainment devices, wire recorders provided advantages over home disc decoders which were used at home to make short recordings of family and friends, and selected radio programs (Morton, 2006). Steel wire could be rerecorded repeatedly and long uninterrupted recordings could also be made through wire recording.  Therefore, sound recording by steel wire became more prominent and wire recording became a paying business because recording companies helped individuals at home and businesses to record sounds for home entertainment and office use respectively. Therefore, the recording industry developed business and operated even before the introduction of magnetic tape recorders.

The consumer-wire recorders were a bit simpler and lighter to use and carry than the commercial magnetic tape recorders. Magnetic tapes were expensive, bulky and complex. This was in 1940s before affordable, simple and compact tape recorders were introduced in the market in 1950s. However, wire recording continued to operate even in 1960s. Together with magnetic tape recording, wire recording boosted the recording industry and improved its technology for quite a long period until late 1960s (Ehrlich, 2006). For instance, Minifon recorders used in 1960s maximized recording time and minimized space of recording (Morton 2006). This enabled the wire recording technology to continue competing with the magnetic tape in 1960s, hence increase competitiveness and improved quality of recording in the recording industry. Minifon wire recorder had a microphone in form of a wristwatch and was developed in a manner that enabled stealth use.

Wire recorded boosted the recording of sound from a time when radios had to make live presentations. It improved communications and conversations through radio programs and advertisements. Using magnetic fields, steel wires recorded sounds for a longer period than previous mechanisms (Smith 2008). This enabled the recording industry to transcribe sounds magnetically and enable office users to access information in a transcribed form for ease of understanding and rewinding or retrieval of the information. The steel wires acted as storage devices although they kept information for a short time; as long as the magnetic fields still work. Furthermore, steel wires transcribe sounds to be used at home for entertainment.

From a commercial point of view, wire recorders can be used by audio sound recording companies for wire recording to record sounds for home entertainment and office use (Ehrlich, 2006). This acts as a business as recording companies use wires to record sounds as a fee-charging service. Recording industry therefore improved its technology while earning more income and profitability in the industry. Increased wire recording companies due to the open wire recording market enhanced after the licensing of many manufacturers from USA, Europe and Japan also led to increased competition. This competition in turn enhanced better quality of wire recording and the recording industry became more reliable. However, the introduction of the magnetic tape ended the influence of wire recording.

Effects of Magnetic Transcription by Early magnetic tapes on recording industry

The evolution of magnetic tape recording has led to significant impacts on recording industry. Magnetic transcription through early magnetic tapes can be dated back to 1930. Since then, magnetic tapes have evolved as music recording companies and radio broadcasters developed. Producers and artists are able to use magnetic tapes to record sounds or audios. Furthermore, this magnetic transcription device plays back sounds such as articulated voices (Ehrlich, 2006). Magnetic tapes are wound on a reel or in a cassette for storage. They had top quality and capabilities in the past compared to other recording technologies such as wire recorders and transcription disks. They utilize analog sound magnetic recording technology. Nowadays digital recording technologies have started to replace analog magnetic tapes, but they are still used in various circumstances. For instance, they can be used in the present day to record fluctuating signal by allowing the tape to move across a tape head which is capable of polarizing the magnetic domains within the magnetic tape in response to the audio signal.

Magnetic tapes led to significant changes in recording industry. It led to the ability to record sound, erasure and re-recording on one tape several times, duplication of sound from one tape to another with minimum loss of quality, and precise editing of recordings (James 1946). Editing of recordings can be carried out by cutting the tape physically and rejoining it. Early magnetic tapes allowed for the first sound recordings through electronic means to be created. As a result, various experiments of sound recording and subsequently innovative music studio recordings of artists were enhanced in the recording industry. Tapes also allowed radio stations to pre-record contents of programmes such as ads for the first time. Prior to the introduction of magnetic tapes, radio stations presented programs live. With the introduction of magnetic tapes, broadcasters, regulators and other interest groups are able to log radio broadcasts comprehensively for the purposes of commercial and legislative functioning. This has enhanced the growth of modern media monitoring.

Innovations developed through magnetic tapes such as tape echo and multi-track recording have also enabled radio ads and programs to be produced to a complex and sophisticated level. Endless-loop cartridge of tapes also changed the pacing of program content in radio stations (Begun 1937). Before the introduction of floppy disks and CDs, magnetic tapes were also used as storage devices to store data. In fact, they are still used today to enhance offline backup to hard disk drives.

Commercialization of magnetic tapes started after the Second World War. Ampex and Brush Development Company championed the development and innovation of magnetic tape recorders in 1940s and 1950s (Ehrlich 2006). Mining and Manufacturing Corporation also improved magnetic tape media significantly in order to enhance the commercialization of magnetic tapes. Bing Crosby and John Mullin are two of the people who gave a significant input in commercialization of magnetic tapes. Crosby believed that there was a great potential of magnetic tapes. He suggested that the devices could be used to pre-record radio programmes in such a way that the quality of sound would be in line with the standard of a live music standard. He also argued that magnetic tapes would be replayed many times without losing the quality of sound. After the first magnetic tape broadcasting was allowed in October 1, 1947, Crosby became the first person to commercialize magnetic tapes (Ehrlich 2006). This led Crosby’s shows to be the most prominent events in radio. As a result, other radio networks requested to be allowed to use magnetic tapes to pre-record their programs. Commercialization of magnetic tapes then increased, and the recording industry recorded more radio shows.

Commercialization of magnetic tapes enhanced effective business in the recording industry. For instance, Crosby used his own money to invest in Ampex Company which later became the leading tape recording company in the world. Several years after the Second World War, Ampex and Mullin alongside other business persons and companies in the recording industry developed two-track stereo recorders, three track recorders and other tape recording technologies to be used for commercial purposes in the recording industry (Ehrlich 2006). As a result, magnetic tapes formed a significant part of commercial business in recording industry.

Among all analog magnetic transcription media, magnetic tapes have been of the highest quality. Even with the emergence of digital recording, magnetic tapes are still utilized in a few cases. The effects of the early magnetic tapes can be observed in various occasions and in different periods of time. For instance, BBC radio utilized some magnetophone machines in 1946 which represented magnetic tapes to record and play back performances of German operas (Howard, James and Ferguson 1967). This solved the problems associated with live relays which were occasioned by unreliability of landlines after the Second World War. Later versions of the magnetophone utilized by BBC emerged and were referred to as EMI BTR 1 and EMI BTR 2. These were used until late 1960s. They were more improved and of good quality. They were used for many years to record sounds by many channels, hence allowing users to listen to recorded sounds and play the back as many times as possible. This also made the recording industry to produce many records of audios as more radios and music recording companies recorded audio sounds for their programmes.

Early magnetic tapes were also responsive; they could run at high speed or up to desired speed quickly. This allowed the magnetic tapes to record quality audio sound effectively and quickly (Morton 2000). The speed at which the magnetic tapes worked allowed recording industry to record many audio sounds within a short period of time and keep up with high speed of the sound being recorded. This saved time, hence enabled the industry to serve more customers and operate quite effectively. Magnetic tapes also have light-touch buttons (for operating) and heads facing forward. These features allowed for quick and fine editing.

Analog tape recorders experienced progressive developments since they were introduced in 1930. These developments have resulted in increased quality of sound, versatility and convenience. Magnetic tapes included two-tract and multi-track heads which allowed for discrete recording and playback of various sources of sound, including stereophonic channels when live recording is underway (Judge 1950). There were also some more versatile magnetic tapes which were used to record some tracks while playing back others. This made recording industry to start recording and playback many individual sound sources simultaneously, hence making sound recording and magnetic transcription easier and faster. Magnetic tapes with separate heads for recording and play back also allowed the recording industry to monitor the recorded signal in a fraction of a second after audio sound recording. During recording, dynamic range compression was also enhanced. Expansion during playback together with the dynamic range compression during recording expanded the dynamic range of the magnetic tape and increased signal to noise ratio (Howard, James and Ferguson 1967). This reduced noise in the recording industry, hence allowing users of recorded audio sounds in the recording industry to minimize the chances of facing health problems associated with noise.


Early magnetic tapes and wire recording have been considered as the early innovations of audio sound recording which have influenced recording industry significantly. Most of the effects of the two technologies on the recording industries were positive. Wire recorders were introduced before magnetic tapes in 1880s and they enabled people to record sounds for home entertainment and office use. Wire recording companies emerged to enhance recording of sounds for use in conversations in aircrafts among crewmen and between crewmen and ground stations. Furthermore, wire recorders were used to record radio programs at home for entertainment services. This enabled the recording industry to attract many recording needs for business and entertainment purposes. On the other hand, magnetic tapes were used from 1930s and replaced the wire recorders. Companies such Ampex developed magnetic tapes for commercial purposes due to the increased demand for magnetic tape recording. This enhanced commercialization of magnetic tapes, hence improving the business aspects of recording industry. Magnetic tapes also enabled recording industries to record and re-record audio sounds for use in radio shows and advertisements. They were also used for storage of data. Therefore, magnetic tapes and wire recorders enabled the recording industry to improve analogue audio sound recording services and develop effective radio broadcasting in the recording industry.


References list

Begun, S. J., “Magnetic Recording-Reproducing Machine for Objective Speech Study,” J. Soc. Motion Picture Engrs., Vol. 29 (Nov. 2, 1937), pp. 216-218.

Ehrlich, Matthew C. “A Pathfinding Radio Documentary Series: Norman Corwin’s One World Flight”, American Journalism, 23(2006, 4), pp. 35–59.

Howard, James A, and Lester N. Ferguson. Magnetic Tape Recording Handbook. Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center, 1967. Print.

James, J. H., “Magnetic Playback-Recorder Using Paper Discs,” Communications, Vol. 27 (Apr., 1947), pp. 32, 55-58.

Judge, G. R. Wire Recorder Manual, Bernards Publishers Ltd., London, 1950. Print.

Morton, David. Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2000. Print.

Morton, David. Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr, 2006. Print.

Rosen, Alan. The Wonder of Their Voices: The 1946 Holocaust Interviews of David Boder. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Internet resource.

Smith, Jacob. Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Media. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Internet resource.

Leave a Reply